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God using Katrina to bring revival to New Orleans, says pastor

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–God is using Hurricane Katrina to bring revival to New Orleans and to the hearts of Southern Baptists, said Dennis Watson, pastor of New Orleans’ Celebration Church.

Two weeks prior to Katrina, Watson preached on Acts 8 and how God used the persecution of the early church to spread the Gospel.

“We are praying for the Lord to rebuild our work here in New Orleans because this is the moment of opportunity to reach the city,” Watson said. “New Orleans is known as the ‘graveyard of churches’ and has a reputation for ungodliness…. Peoples’ hearts were very much hardened. Now New Orleans is broken and the people are far more receptive to the Gospel message.”

Many of the 3,000 members of Celebration Church — like the thousands of Southern Baptist volunteers serving in hurricane-ravaged areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — are winning people to Christ while ministering to their physical needs, Watson said.

“It’s as though we are living out Acts 8 right now,” Watson said, adding that members of Celebration Church are serving in Baton Rouge and Lafayette, La.; Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., Jackson, Miss., Atlanta, Ga., and other places. Watson, like members of his church, had to leave New Orleans. He is residing in a private home in Baton Rouge.

“Our primary facility is still under water, but God is working through the lives of our people and through the testimonies of our people. They are winning people to Christ where they are.”

Though New Orleans is now an abandoned city, Watson said the churches are determined to return and rebuild.

“There’s a lot of resolve in the Christian community to go back in and rebuild in New Orleans and reach the city as it is being re-populated,” he said. “It’s going to be a tough transition, because it is probably going to go from 1.3 million to 500,000 [people] initially … then it will rebuild back over the years. [New Orleans] probably has lost its place as the largest city in Louisiana, so it’s just a whole different world.”

Watson said since a third of the jobs in Louisiana were located in the New Orleans area, it will be a very different ministry for churches in the future.

When the Southern Baptist Convention was organized in 1845, one of its goals was to evangelize the city of New Orleans, Watson noted. “We believe this is a moment of opportunity,” he said. “This is the greatest opportunity ever in the history of the city.”

God is moving boldly in the midst of disaster, said Watson, as he recounted the story of a shelter in Baker near Baton Rouge that saw 700 people make professions of faith in one day. The center is being operated by a nondenominational church.

“It shows the openness of the people [following adversity],” he said.

Watson, who started Celebration Church while he worked on his doctoral degree at New Orleans Theological Seminary 16 years ago, said he is encouraged by the outpouring of support by other Southern Baptist churches following the devastation of Katrina.

“We are excited about the Southern Baptist Adopt a Church plan. It’s going to be necessary for churches in New Orleans to survive because we don’t have the ability to meet, worship and receive offerings, and our people also don’t have jobs or homes,” he said. “As Southern Baptists partner with us and help us survive this time, we believe as people come back to New Orleans and it’s being re-populated, they will be far more receptive to the Good News of Jesus than ever before.”

Tragedy, the pastor noted, “sometimes does what nothing else can do … change hearts.”
Churches interested in adopting SBC churches damaged or destroyed by the hurricane can register at www.NAMB.net and click on the Adopt a Church link.

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  • Tim Yarbrough